We’ve come a long way, but women are still at a disadvantage in many arenas of life, including health. These health issues aren’t limited to physical concerns — they also impact other areas of life, such as family and finances.
Although women have a longer life expectancy than men in almost all countries, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they enjoy healthier lives. In fact, millions of women suffer from health issues each year that would not have affected them had they been men. Women are more vulnerable to contracting HIV, less likely to be screened for heart disease, and, believe it or not, more likely to have received inferior health care compared to their male counterparts.
The good news is there are many nonprofits, charities and projects devoted to helping women get the care they need and creating a culture of prevention and wellness. Read on to learn more about three of the top health problems facing women around the world and the organizations working to do something about it.
A leading killer of men and women, heart disease is responsible for about 29 percent of deaths in women (according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention). That’s largely because signs and symptoms go misdiagnosed in female patients. Research is even starting to show women develop the disease differently than men. So what puts a woman at risk? Obesity, stress, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and inactivity. Left untreated, the disease can lead to heart attack and stroke.
What You Can Do: Volunteer to take part in the World Heart Federation’s Go Red for Women campaign to raise awareness of the prevalence of heart disease among women at home and abroad.
Breast cancer is a serious issue that affects women worldwide. Recent research shows that while doctors are getting better at treating the disease, incidence rates are on the rise. That’s largely due to lifestyle factors. Today, women are putting off marriage, having children later (if they have them at all), and are more overweight, stressed out, and less active than previous generations when breast cancer rates were lower.
What You Can Do: Support programs like the Breast Health Global Initiative, which work to find more effective ways to diagnose and treat breast cancer in the developing world. Another great program is the World Cancer Research Fund, which funds breast cancer research and advocates for international policy to help women get more effective treatment.
This disease affects women about 50 percent more than men, largely because of:
- Hormonal changes, for example, postpartum depression that develops post-pregnancy
- Lifestyle factors, such as feeling disconnected from loved ones, a family history of the disease, or substance abuse
- It also can be triggered by a stressful life event, a history of childhood abuse, or neglect.
It’s easy to forget about mental health afflictions when looking at the state of women’s health, because they’re “invisible”. But even though we can’t see them, untreated mental health issues have real consequences. Women are more likely to develop depression and anxiety disorders than men, and are more likely to live through an event or experience that gives them PTSD, such as a violent civil conflict, a disaster, or an incident of domestic violence.
What You Can Do: Stay abreast of international programs that bring mental health services to those in need, such as the WHO Mental Health Gap Action Programme. Also consider donating to charities that help those with mental health needs stateside, too, like NAMI.